- Title: MOLDOVA-RALLY Tens of thousands rally in Moldova against $1 bln bank fraud
- Date: 6th September 2015
- Summary: CHISINAU, MOLDOVA (SEPTEMBER 6, 2015) (REUTERS) PEOPLE GATHERED IN GREAT NATIONAL ASSEMBLY SQUARE HOLDING MOLDOVAN FLAGS EU AND ROMANIAN FLAGS VARIOUS OF PEOPLE HOLDING FLAGS AND SIGNS WITH NAMES OF MOLDOVAN TOWNS ROMANIAN AND MOLDOVAN FLAGS WAVING
- Embargoed: 21st September 2015 13:00
- Topics: General
- Reuters ID: LVA95GS58K4YL4FKY60NRGYGMZBC
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Tens of thousands of Moldovans rallied on Sunday (September 6) in the heart of the capital Chisinau in the biggest street protests in memory, demanding the resignation of the president and early elections over a $1 billion bank fraud that has hit living standards.
The protesters streamed into the capital from all regions of the small, largely rural, ex-Soviet state in answer to an appeal by a new mass organisation called "Da!" to demonstrate in a central square outside the main government building.
Police put their numbers at between 35,000 and 40,000 - bigger even than mass anti-communist protests of April 2009 - though the organisers put their estimates at three times as many.
The protesters, calling for the resignation of President Nicolae Timofti who has presided over a pro-European Union leadership since early 2012, chanted: "Victory! Bring the one billion back home!"
One of the protest leaders, Andrei Nastase, said a new president should be elected in a referendum.
"Apart from the demands we put forward at the rallies on May 3, April 5 and June 7, we have new demands, the most important of which is resignation of the president of the Moldovan Republic who is part of oligarchisation and criminalisation of the Moldovan Republic. We demand election of the president at a referendum and snap parliamentary elections organised by the government, which has national trust," he said.
In an egregious scam that has exposed endemic corruption and highlighted the power of oligarch groups in the country of 3.5 million, $1 billion has disappeared from the banking system - roughly one eighth of Moldova's gross domestic output.
The fraud has caused a rapid depreciation in the national currency, the leu, stoking inflation and hurting living standards.
It has also tarnished the image of the pro-Europe ruling class for ordinary Moldovans, many of whom struggle by on a family income of about $300 a month, though many protesters carried pro-EU flags indicating they were not against the country's policy of European integration.
Another protest leader, Stanislav Pavlovschi, who used to serve as a judge in the European Court of Human Rights, condemned corruption in the judicial system.
"Judicial system is cancer of this country, that sucks life powers out of people. Innocent people are in prison only because they did not have enough money to bribe corrupt prosecutors and judges. How long will we put up with it?" he said, standing on a makeshift tribune.
Protesters, who directed much of their verbal fire at the country's super-wealthy oligarchs who control key sectors of the economy, threatened to stage a non-stop demonstration in central Chisinau until their demands were met.
"We want to be Europe, we want our children to live at home, and parents to bring up their children. We want to get rid of bandits and thieves and be a civilised country," said Liuba Varzari, one of the protesters, referring to Moldovans who seek employment in other countries.
"We want to be free, we want better life, because we see how other people live. We hope today's event will bring us freedom," she another protester Silvia Istrati.
EU and other Western officials based in Chisinau say that successive pro-Western governments have done little to halt gross economic mismanagement and stamp out widespread corruption in the political system.
The banking scam has also shaken the confidence of Western allies and international lenders which help keep Moldova's economy afloat and EU budgetary support for the country has been put on hold until the affair has been cleared up.
One prime minister, Chiril Gaburici, resigned earlier this year in a bizarre row over the validity of his school diplomas that was linked to the banking scam.
The mass rallies will be a setback for Valeriu Strelet, whose appointment in July to succeed Gaburici opened the door to renewed dealings with international lenders including the IMF.
Arcadie Barbarosie, a sociologist, said the return of the sum will scarcely satisfy the protesters.
"Even the return of the stolen billion (euro) will not satisfy citizens. Authorities should be changed. Acting authorities should be dismissed, and snap elections should be organised," he said.
In an interview with Reuters in August, he said Moldova would step up efforts to try to trace the missing $1 billion and bring the money back to Moldova from bank accounts abroad.
Strelet later on Sunday appeared outside the government building and said he would study the demands.
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